In recent months, meta-universes have been on everyone’s lips, and that’s not surprising: after Mark Zuckerberg and public figures from other companies announced serious investments in virtual reality, even those who are not usually interested in technology news started talking about meta-universes. In general, the topic of meta-universes is gaining momentum, and since VR Expo is directly related to it, our editorial staff could not avoid the new (actually, not so new) phenomenon.
What is a meta-universe?
A meta-universe is one large virtual reality (or a network of smaller ones) that is designed for social interactions between users. In other words, it is a full-fledged virtual world where you can do things that people usually do in reality.
Some metavillages are created with the aim of general social interaction between users, while others are aimed at a specialized task. An example is the VR Expo startup: our team is trying to create a meta-universe that will become a single exhibition site in Russia.
The entry point in modern meta-universes is a computer (or smartphone) connected to the Internet. Virtual reality helmets and glasses are also used – in recent years they are almost mandatory in the concept of meta-universes. This is because VR sets are becoming more accessible, both in terms of price and prevalence.
It’s worth recognizing that a meta-universe is just a regular virtual reality, just larger in scale and aimed at social interactions between users. The word itself has become so popular and convenient that it simply makes no sense for techno-giants and journalists to abandon it. In a nutshell, metavillages are social networks operating on top of virtual reality. Metavillages have their own economy, which is closely related to the economy of the real world. In addition, in its classic sense, a meta-universe should not have a single owner: objects within it should be owned by different people.
At the moment, there is not a single full-fledged implementation of a meta-universe – existing worlds are either limited by theme, or are not decentralized, or do not have serious economic potential. Nevertheless, we are rapidly moving towards the moment when full-fledged meta universes will exist – corporations, startups, and even groups of hobbyists for whom the metaverse is a hobby assure us of this. In general, a large number of IT specialists, entrepreneurs, and journalists are creating meta-universes.
History of meta-universes
The word “meta-universe” was first coined by Neal Stephenson – it was the central concept of his sci-fi novel Avalanche. In it, people could plug into a digital reality where they fully interacted with the virtual world. In this way, they could enjoy complete freedom and escape from the darker reality that surrounded them. Of course, science fiction writers had come up with similar ideas much earlier, but it was Neal Stephenson who coined the term “metaverse” itself. After that, there were many works in which metauniverses appeared. You can read about them in our previous article – “Virtual Realities in Art”.
The first attempts to create meta-universes began back in the 90s, but then they failed because computers were relatively weak and the Internet was not so global. In addition, the idea stumbled on commerce: investors were afraid to invest a lot of money in obscure projects with vague prospects. Fortunately, the situation changed in the noughties: computers became more productive, the Internet became more accessible and faster, and as a result, the first serious metaverse projects appeared.
Examples of metauniverses
One of the first successful realizations of the meta-universe was the computer game Second Life, released in 2003.
The game consists of a 3D world where users can create their own characters for further interaction with other players. The range of possibilities in Second Life is huge, everything is limited only by the player’s imagination. By the way, Second Life is quite a successful commercial project, and that’s why the game is still gaining popularity and updated – almost 20 years after its release.
Another feature of Second Life is its economic integration with the real world. The virtual currency linden-dollars can not only be bought with real money, but can also be exchanged for real money. Thus, in this meta-universe you can do a full-fledged business, which will bear fruit in the real world.
VRChat is another meta universe that has gained popularity in recent years. Unlike Second Life, VRChat was originally created as a platform for VR glasses and helmets. In the game, you can interact with other users using avatars, and these avatars can be controlled using the sensors that come with the VR helmets.
It’s a stretch to say that other online games like Minecraft, Roblox, and Fortnite fit the concept of a meta-universe. These games have a strong social aspect, and the virtual reality within them can be changed by the players at their discretion. Nevertheless, such projects are not meta-universes in the full sense of the term, as they are not adapted for the use of VR-helmets and they do not have a large unified universe, as well as a developed economic component.
Facebook, Meta, and Mark Zuckerberg
In 2021, Mark Zuckerberg renamed his brainchild, Facebook. Now one of the largest technology corporations in the world is called Meta. This change is not an ordinary rebranding from marketers. Zuckerberg explained that such a decision was made due to the fact that his company will henceforth focus on the creation of Metaverse – a global meta-universe.
So far, Meta and the company’s management do not have a unified plan, because the relevant technologies are still not sufficiently “tested” to be implemented with confidence. For now, the former Facebook will be moving hard towards working on such a project, and the first results are already available: in December 2021, Horizon Worlds – a VR game from Meta – came out of beta test, where you can communicate with other players, play mini-games both from Meta itself and custom games from other users, as well as create your own content.
Horizon World is directly related to Meta’s future meta universe and VR technology, but the company is also working on other technologies that will be useful in the future meta universe, in particular – working on the future implementation of NFT, blockchain and cryptocurrencies in order to have a full-fledged economy in the Metaverse, intersecting with the economy of the real world.
Other projects of technology companies
Zuckerberg’s future meta-universe is getting the most publicity, but that doesn’t mean that other companies are not working in this direction. New startups aimed at creating or supporting and maintaining metaviews appear every month.
Big companies other than Meta itself are also trying to grab their share of the market.
For example, Microsoft has been involved in VR for a long time, but in March 2021 it launched a project to create a mini-meta-universe called Mesh. In it, people can communicate while staying in a single virtual space, and there is an opportunity to project virtual worlds of photorealistic quality.
Specialists from Apple have also already started full-fledged work on the creation of meta-universes, but so far the company is in no hurry: Apple does not like to release raw and low-demand products. Nevertheless, technology market experts predict that meta-universes will become really popular at the moment when Apple will start releasing its products on the topic. In the meantime, the company is getting serious about implementing VR/AR into Apple’s mass-market computers/smartphones. It is also developing a VR conferencing app.
Google still hasn’t announced plans for a global meta-universe, but the company has been working on VR/AR projects for over a decade. So far, the main field of activity is the integration of real and virtual worlds.
Naturally, smaller companies like Epica Games, Roblox, NVIDIA and others also have their own ideas, but so far their projects are not on the radar, and they are likely to gain real demand only after the metaverse is developed by large corporations.
On the prospects for meta-universes
We can already say with certainty that metavillages have huge prospects. It is quite likely that in terms of their scale they will become new social networks, and in time they will even surpass them in popularity. There are no restrictions and obstacles to the development of metavillages: neither from the economic, nor from the technological, nor from the ethical point of view. Let’s refute the possible problems together.
Let’s start with economics.
Metavillages are beneficial to everyone. A company that owns a meta-universe can get an influx of new money – there are a lot of ways to monetize a meta-universe: selling vip-accounts, selling objects and territories inside the world, selling virtual currency, etc. The benefits are obvious. Users of meta-universes get the opportunity to have fun, to create, to do business, to socialize. Of course, the creation of a meta-universe is a business that requires large investments, but difficulties arise only at the initial stages. The speed of development increases in geometric progression, especially since over time the users themselves will be able to supplement it with their own content.
The second possible problem is technological.
In terms of technology, a meta-universe can be created today. The level of VR/AR development is sufficient for meta-universes, and the price for the end buyer is becoming more acceptable every day. The performance of computers and servers will not be a limitation either, the proof is modern online games, some of which are played simultaneously by millions of people from all over the world. It is quite possible to deploy the necessary infrastructure, the only question is the scale of development and investment. However, large companies like Meta will have no problems with scale.
Finally, “killers of meta-universes” often mention ethical problems that will arise due to the emergence of global virtual realities. Mostly, they mention possible problems due to sexual harassment, the development of psychological dependence on the virtual world in users, and experts also state the potential harm to the psyche of children. Each of these problems is not new to the world in principle, and the Internet in particular, and these issues are effectively addressed by automatic and manual content moderation. In addition, companies can use algorithms that will assess the trustworthiness of users and automatically block them for violating rules.
Thus, the only obstacle on the way to the new world, the world of meta universes, is only one – someone has to be the pioneer. Meta has already announced its direction, and in time, other companies around the world will follow. No one knows for sure what meta-universes will be like, but the basic concepts have already been developed, and in time they will be realized.
We have to wait for more press releases and technological news. Or better yet, act, and occupy a promising market. Our company, VR Expo World, is developing one of the first meta-universes in Russia, and every business in Russia can place its virtual exhibition in our meta-universe!
*Meta Corporation and all its products are recognized as extremist in the Russian Federation